Public opinion of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) among voters in New York State has shifted in favor of the practice, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, elected officials in the Town of Perinton, NY, in Monroe County, voted to ban fracking and other oil and natural gas activities at their meeting Wednesday.

According to the poll, respondents said, by a 45-41% margin, that the economic benefits of drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale outweigh any environmental concerns. That’s a shift of several percentage points in favor of fracking since the last Quinnipiac poll on July 26, when New Yorkers said they opposed the practice, 44-43% (see Shale Daily, Aug. 1). It’s also the first time since September 2011 that voters supported fracking.

“Upstate voters, who have the most to gain and the most to lose, have tipped the statewide balance in favor of drilling for natural gas,” Quinnipiac University Polling Institute Director Maurice Carroll said.

The latest poll shows strong support for fracking among Upstate (48-40%) and suburban (49-39%) voters, as well as Republicans (72-16%), independents (46-43%), men (53-36%) and whites (49-40%). Conversely, fracking was opposed by New York City voters (44-41%) as well as Democrats (54-31%), women (46-38%) and blacks (45-36%).

Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York (IOGA) Executive Director Brad Gill said the poll “indicates that the public is beginning to focus its attention on the role America’s natural gas supply can play in helping turn around the state and national economies, and New Yorkers are very aware of the vast energy reserves that exist across the state’s Southern Tier.

“In recent weeks, energy policy has been a centerpiece of the discussion of both presidential candidates, who have expressed strong support for continued domestic natural gas production…New Yorkers are clearly realizing that exploring for natural gas has tremendous potential to create jobs and have a positive impact on air quality.”

But despite the support for fracking, most voters (48-14%) still believe the practice will damage the environment, although the percentage of respondents who hold that opinion has fallen from earlier polls conducted on July 26 (53-12%) and Dec. 21, 2011 (55-13%). Meanwhile, the percentage of those who aren’t sure if fracking will damage the environment rose to 37%, compared to 34% in July and 31% last December.

IOGA spokeswoman Cherie Messore interpreted the statistics as encouraging. “People are starting to know that this is safe,” she told NGI’s Shale Daily on Thursday. “Those numbers show we have been successful in helping educate New Yorkers about not only the benefits, but giving people confidence that the industry can deliver the environmental safety measures that we’re expected to do.”

Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council, a division of the American Petroleum Institute, concurred.

“We are seeing a steadily rising number of New Yorkers who understand the importance of the opportunity of developing energy from shale in this state. This poll comes at a critical time for needed jobs in New York,” Moreau said Thursday. She added that if the governor and the state Department of Environmental Conservation decide to allow high-volume fracking it “could have a game-changing impact on our state’s future prosperity.”

Support for a new tax on companies drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale rebounded in the latest poll, with tax supporters outnumbering opponents, 51-34%. That’s an increase from the poll taken in July (47-39%) and last December (57-31%), but still several points lower than a poll taken on Aug. 11, 2011, when support for a tax registered 59-29% in favor (see Shale Daily, Aug. 15, 2011).

In the latest poll, 81% of respondents believe Marcellus Shale gas drilling will create jobs, up from 75% in polls taken in July and last December. New Yorkers are also becoming more educated about fracking, with 65% saying they have read something about the practice, compared to 62% in July and 59% last December.

The Perinton Town Council voted to ban fracking as well as extraction, exploration and storage activities for oil and natural gas.

“We believe that, as the hydrofracking industry and its methodologies stand today, this practice is not compatible with our town, its existing development pattern and its tradition of the preservation of open space,” Perinton Town Supervisor James Smith told the Fairport-East Rochester Post.

IOGA’s Messore said Perinton’s passage of the law was a symbolic gesture.

“While there are some existing wells in and around Monroe County, the county itself is not a candidate for substantial Marcellus Shale development,” Messore said. “Communities are being pressured to make these decisions but they often turn out to be fairly short-sighted. They could wind up hurting more businesses in their community than they protect.”